By SHELLY WILKISON
Southeastern Louisiana University at Hammond has selected Liberty Hill High School Cheer Captain Baylee Bishop to join its cheer team in the fall, and since the announcement May 10, she hasn’t stopped smiling.
As if Miss Bishop’s normally contagious smile and outgoing personality were not enough to make one want to bust out in a cheer, these days her friends, family and teachers are cheering her accomplishment and wishing her the best as she prepares to trade in the purple and gold for the green and gold.
Miss Bishop will be among 33 cheerleaders on the Lions cheer squad in the fall. But she is one of only six incoming freshmen selected following a grueling series of stunt clinics and auditions that required extensive travel and a great deal of commitment.
“I have just fallen in love with the school and this program,” she said, “and I can hardly wait to get there.”
Miss Bishop, who plans to pursue a degree in communications and would like to work in public relations upon graduation, said she originally planned to end her life-long interest in cheerleading and attend a university nearby. But her plan was waylaid when she began traveling regularly to Hammond, Louisiana, last fall to watch her older brother, Bryce, plan football for the Lions.
After cheering on the Liberty Hill Panthers on Friday nights, the Bishop family would load the car and travel eight hours to Hammond for home games to cheer on Bryce. Miss Bishop said she so enjoyed the tailgating and the spirited environment, as well as the friendly atmosphere that she introduced herself to a cheerleader, then met the cheer coach and ultimately discovered a new opportunity.
Southeastern Louisiana University is part of the Southland Conference where they play schools like Incarnate Word, Northwestern State, Central Arkansas, Houston Baptist, McNeese State, Lamar, Stephen F. Austin and Nicholls State. Miss Bishop says she will be cheering at football, basketball and volleyball games, and will compete with the squad in World Cheerleading in January in Florida.
“I just wanted to be part of something bigger at the university,” she said.
“I’ve been doing this (cheerleading) for so long, and I love it,” she said. “I was always the little girl wearing the cheer uniform even when I wasn’t old enough to cheer.”
She said she started cheering at age seven as part of the Pop Warner football league. Through the years, her parents, Jeff and Peggy Bishop, enrolled her in cheer classes at various schools including Courage Cheer and Dance in Liberty Hill.
“If you want to improve your tumbling, you can always have more practice. I’m grateful that my parents allowed me to have that,” she said.
“Being involved in cheerleading has helped drive me to be hardworking as a student and as an athlete,” she said. “It is so much more than what people perceive it to be. There have been so many opportunities for travel and to experience different things that help you see your potential.”
Miss Bishop said cheerleading is a sport and requires stamina and physical fitness, in addition to the type of personality that can motivate others.
After years of cheerleading in Liberty Hill where she had grown comfortable as a squad leader, Miss Bishop said she suddenly found herself “scared to death” this spring as she started the process of auditioning for Southeastern Louisiana.
“I had to swallow my pride and get it going,” she said. “I waited with my parents in the truck 15 minutes, staring at the long sidewalk into the building. I was scared to death.”
It didn’t take long, however, for Miss Bishop to find her place in the room, quickly making friends with other students.
The process required six trips to Hammond in recent months. She attended stunt clinics on Sunday afternoons, then returned to Liberty Hill by classtime on Monday. The schedule interfered with her senior prom and other senior activities, but Miss Bishop said missing those things did not matter to her as much as what she was about to do.
“I will miss Liberty Hill, but I’m all about looking ahead and everything is pointing in this direction so strongly that I’ve already moved on,” she said.
Some months ago, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop transferred their jobs to the Huntsville area and relocated allowing them to be closer to their children while they attended college. While their daughter was still attending LHHS, they rented an apartment nearby until school is out. On weekends, Miss Bishop and her mother have been commuting between Liberty Hill and Huntsville.
“My parents have never missed a game where my brother or I were on the field,” she said. “She (Mrs. Bishop) has a rule about that.”
LHHS Assistant Principal Dee Dee Kristan, who also serves as the cheerleader coach, said she is proud of Miss Bishop and wishes her the best.
“Baylee has a bubbly personality, kind soul and is well liked by her classmates,” she said. “It has been a pleasure to have her in the LHHS cheer program for all four years and watch her skill level plus leadership abilities develop as a squad member. She was always proud to be a Panther Cheerleader and represent the school. I know she will have even greater success with Southeastern Louisiana University.”
Mrs. Kristan took over as cheerleader coach in 2009, and since that time, only two other Liberty Hill cheerleaders have gone to cheer at the college level.
In 2013, Cassidy Larkin was chosen for the dance company at McLennan Community College; and in 2010, Leslie Driskell was selected cheerleader at Tarleton State University.